Dealing With Arthritis in Senior Horses
Over the past couple of decades improved management, nutrition, and veterinary care have contributed to increase longevity in today’s horse population. It is not unusual to hear of horses living well into their thirties. As horses age, the wear and tear of a lifetime of activity takes its toll on joints, leading to the development of arthritis. While there is no cure for arthritis, there are ways we can keep older horses more comfortable.
What is arthritis and why are older horses more susceptible?
Arthritis is a degeneration of the articular surfaces of the joint caused by inflammation. It can occur in horses of any age but is more commonly found in older horses. Inflammation caused by constant wear and tear over time leads to an erosion of joint structures. Older horses tend to lose some of the elasticity in their tendons and ligaments, and aging leads to increased cell death in fibrous tissues, causing a thinning of the joint cartilage.
Such changes reduce your horse’s natural shock absorbing capabilities and result in increased trauma to the joint. This trauma results in joint inflammation. Conformation and use can play a role in changing the shape of the joint. The development of uneven joint surfaces in older joints leads to misalignments and pressure points within the joint where inflammation is amplified. Past joint injuries and infections can also predispose a horse to developing arthritis.
The key to keeping arthritis under control is early detection and quick action to decrease damaging inflammation.
Symptoms to watch for:
- Subtle changes in the way your horse moves, such as shortening of stride, hollowing of the back, or raising of the head
- Unwillingness to perform tasks that came easy in the past
- Stiffness that goes away as your horse warms up
- Puffiness around a joint
- Warmth or pain in the area of a joint
Determine the extent of the problem.
First and foremost, if your horse is showing any of the above signs contact your veterinarian and have him or her give your horse a complete physical to rule out other possible problems. If your horse is developing arthritis, your vet will help you pinpoint the affected joints and determine the severity of the problem. This will help tremendously when developing a treatment plan.
Ways you can help
- Feed a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory in nature and low in omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory. In other words, feed more fiber (hay and grass) and fats rich in omega-3s and less grains and oils high in omega-6. The ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids in the total diet should be around 3:1 to 5:1. Research has shown that arthritic horses supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids had reduced levels of inflammation, exhibited less pain, and had longer stride length.
- Incorporate a complete joint supplement into your horse’s diet. A high-quality joint supplement should contain effective levels of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, key nutrients necessary for maintenance of normal joint function. Glucosamine is used as a substrate for certain components of the cartilage matrix, while chondroitin sulfate plays an important role in controlling the enzymes associated with inflammation and tissue destruction. Numerous studies have documented the benefits of combining these two ingredients to joint health. Also look for the ingredient hyaluronic acid that supports and nourishes the synovial fluid that coats and protects joint surfaces. Manganese is an important cofactor in the formation of the cartilage matrix and synthesis of connective tissue, and can be helpful in supporting a healthy joint. Beware of herbal ingredients that are untested and unregulated: their supportive usefulness is undocumented and they can vary in strength and composition.
- Provide adequate natural vitamin E to support a strong immune system, healthy muscle, and nerve tissues. For older horses that are hanging out, or in light work, the recommended level of natural vitamin E in the diet is 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day. For horses that are working harder or are otherwise stressed, the recommended level is 3,000 to 5,000 IU per day. This is particularly important in older horses that are not able to graze on good pasture for a large portion of the day or during the winter months when green grass is not available.
- Protect your horse’s digestive tract. When NSAIDs are prescribed by your veterinarian, discuss the addition of a product that will protect the stomach from developing ulcerations.
- Keep your horse at a healthy weight. Excess weight puts unnecessary strain on joints and muscles. Overweight horses are less agile and more likely to take a bad step, injuring themselves. Overweight horses can develop a metabolic syndrome that leads to systemic inflammatory and increases the risk of arthritis. Overly thin horses may lack the muscle strength needed to support proper joint function. Undernourished bones and soft tissue and joints tend to be weak and easily damaged. Poor immune systems can’t fight off the damaging effects of inflammation.
- Keep feet properly trimmed. A well-balanced hoof absorbs concussive forces more effectively, reducing wear and tear on joints. Long toes, cracked and uneven hoof surfaces increase joint stress.
- Keep your horse moving. Exercise is good for older horses. It increases circulation, which nourishes the joint, and removes damaging waste products. It strengthens muscles and tendons and increases agility that reduces wear and tear on the joint and protects against injury. Exercise should be appropriate for your horse’s age and fitness level. Work with your veterinarian to determine the best exercise program for your horse. Start any new exercise program slowly and watch for signs of discomfort or injury, especially in horses that have been retired.
- Monitor the footing when turning out and riding. The optimal footing would be soft and supportive. Steer clear of footing that is either too hard or too soft
- Be sure to warm up and stretch your horse before exercising. Stretching warms up muscles and tendons, breaks down adhesions, and increases circulation. It greatly reduces the incidence of injury and joint trauma.
- Incorporate passive range of motion exercise into your horse’s daily schedule. Research has shown that passive exercise will increase range of motion by reducing scar tissue development and encouraging cartilage and soft tissue healing.
- Work with your veterinarian. It is critical to develop a treatment plan to decrease joint inflammation and reduce the damage it causes. There are many drugs on the market today to choose from and your vet will know what is best for your horse.
As more and more of us enjoy the company of our horses into old age, it is imperative to address the problems that accompany aging in an appropriate manner. Paying close attention to how our horse feels and making the necessary adjustments in their diet and management ensures that our older horses are happy, healthy and sound well into their senior years.
My 16 year old quarter horse has arthritis, and she has had lameness in her front right hoof for several weeks.
She pins, and tries to kick me every time I brush her girth area.
We do eventing, and I don’t want to have to stop her from competing because of her arthritis.
Also, does anyone have any experience about putting shipping boots on an arthritic horse?
I am sorry to hear that you are having issues with your mare. I know how frustrating it can be.
If she is currently lame, you need to have a veterinarian evaluate her lameness, give you a prognosis, and discuss treatment options. If arthritis is contributing to her lameness, the extent of the arthritis and the area of the joint involved will dictate if treatments such as joint injections or supportive shoeing can make her sound enough to compete again. In some cases an oral joint supplement can help support a reduction in inflammation and pain. Ask your vet about JointWise. https://www.kppvet.com/jointwise/
Your mare’s behavior while being groomed is a typical symptom of gastric ulcers. NSAIDs used for pain management can result in ulcers. I would discuss this with your veterinarian as well. If your mare is diagnosed with ulcers, the vet will help you determine the correct treatment. Kentucky Performance Products’ Neigh-Lox and Neigh-Lox Advanced https://kppusa.com/product/neigh-lox-advanced/ both support a normal gastric environment, reducing the risk of ulcers. The supplement should be added to your horse’s feeding program according to your vet’s recommendations.
Shipping boots or supportive wraps can be used on horses with arthritis. They will protect and support the joints during travel. Make sure shipping boots or wraps are applied correctly so they don’t cause discomfort or dramatically restrict movement. If your horse is not used to being wrapped or wearing boots, give her a chance to get used to the boots or wraps before using them during shipping. You can do this by putting them on for a few hours each day while she is in her stall. If you are new to wrapping a horse, get a more experienced horse person to show you the correct way to wrap and then make time to practice. Wraps that are put on incorrectly can damage a horse’s tendons or slip off during shipping.
I too am facing putting down our favorite Arab gelding. Comet is only 26, but the arthritis in his left front knee caused him to go down hard just a few days ago. I can’t ask him to suffer through the cold winter months that are approaching. We have used Equioxx and bute most of the summer months, but now I think the humane thing to do is euthanize. Yes, there will be lots of tears.
[…] Dealing With Arthritis in Senior Horses […]
My horse is a 19 year old Thoroughbred/Arabian/ Quarter horse mix (we think) and she has some arthritis as a result of overjumping in her youth. We are giving her Bute, and are considering feeding her turmeric to help with her stiffness. Is there anything else I can do to help her move better and be more comfortable?
We recommend you feed the marine source omega-3 fatty acid supplement Contribute (http://kppusa.com/product/contribute) and the complete joint supplement Joint Armor (http://kppusa.com/product/joint-armor) to help reduce inflammation in your mare’s arthritic joints. It won’t cure the arthritis but it should make your mare more comfortable and slow further deterioration.
Multiple research studies have shown that marine source omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and EPA, can reduce the inflammation. When research horses are fed omega-3 fatty acids their length of stride increases, which indicates a decrease in pain and improved soundness. Supplementing with a complete joint supplement such as Joint Armor provides your horse’s joints with the nutrients she needs to support healthy synovial fluid and resilient cartilage. Joint Armor helps maintain fluid motion and also reduces inflammation.
To learn more about the above products, click on the links:
Contribute omega-3 fatty acid supplement: http://kppusa.com/product/contribute
Joint Armor, complete joint supplement: http://kppusa.com/product/joint-armor
Thank you for contacting us with your question.
Karen @ KPP
I have a 27 year old arab, who skips around the field, but when he lays down for more than 30 minutes he cannot get up, heart breaking as he is so well apart from that, any suggestions
This can be part of the aging process in some older horses. Normal locomotion is much easier than hauling that big body up off the ground. Some older horses have joint or muscle issues, particularly in the hindquarters, that make getting up very difficult. Soft tissue and joint damage, pain, and even lack of muscle strength can all play a role.
I suggest you consult with your vet. He or she can evaluate your horse and determine if something as simple as a nutritional supplement for joints can help, or if a joint injection, NSAID or some other treatment will address his issues and make it easier for him to get up.
I have a 28 yr old paint horse that has arthritis in her left knee. Its very swollen and her leg from the down has turned in real bad. I have had the vet out several times and after shots in her knee and pain meds she is worse. She lays down alot and has alot of trouble geting around. Is their anything left to do.
It is heartbreaking to hear that your horse is in pain. It is so hard when our best friends get old and start having problems. It sounds like you are doing everything you can to keep your horse comfortable.
We highly recommend that you continue to consult with your veterinarian about the best treatment plan for your horse going forward. If your vet thinks a joint supplement might help to make your guy more comfortable, then we recommend JointWiseTM (http://www.kppvet.com/jointwise/). Your veterinarian can get it for you.
Some arthritic horses respond when supplemented with the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA (marine sources). The research shows an increase in stride length and a reduction in inflammatory response to exercise in horses being fed omega-3s. This indicates a benefit in reducing joint pain. Of course, no supplement can repair the damage done by advanced arthritic changes. Discuss this further with your veterinarian to see if your horse might benefit from a supplement like this. If he or she thinks it might help, we recommend ContributeTM omega-3 fatty acid supplement (http://kppusa.com/product/contribute/).
End-of-life decisions are never easy when our loved ones are involved. Perhaps this article will help you if this is a decision you will have to make.
We will be thinking about you! Let us know if we can answer any other questions.
I too am having to make a decision about my
23 yr old mare. She developed a bad knee when her opposite hoof had an issue. Her
knee is bowed out and whole leg is turning
inward. She is on a steroid and Bute for pain.
I’m afraid she will fall and break it, or dis-
I am trying to let her enjoy the summer, then will say a tough good bye.
I am so sorry to hear about your mare. It sounds like you are giving her the best life possible, she is a lucky girl to have you to take care of her. I hope you enjoy a wonderful summer with her.
My 20 yr old barrel horse has come up lame in his left hock and he’s in pain.Its radiates up to his back and and you can’t cinch the saddle without him acting up. Vet pretty much tells me that it’s gonna be a looking battle without hock injections but I’m not prepared to get into that. I am educated on all the right supplements and bute. I don’t know what to do .will he ever be able to barrel race again and how can I get him out of constant pain .
I am sorry that your horse is having hock problems. I know how frustrating it is.
At Kentucky Performance Products, we have two good products that might help your horse. The first is JointWise. (http://www.kppvet.com/jointwise/) You would have to get this product from your vet. He or she can order it for you from their veterinary supply company. JointWise was developed to be used for horses with more advanced joint issues. The JointWise webpage explains how all the ingredients work.
I would recommend feeding Contribute omega-3 fatty acid supplement along with the JointWise. (http://kppusa.com/product/contribute/) There is good research data that shows omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and increase stride length in horses with arthritis. Go to the Contribute page on the website, click on the FAQ tab, and open up the first question for more information. Here’s the direct link: http://kppusa.com/product/contribute/
While supplements won’t cure your horse’s arthritis and they don’t replace NSAIDs or intraarticular injections, they can support lower levels of inflammation in the joint so that your horse is more comfortable. The level of results will depend on how much damage is already done.
Let me know if you have any further questions.
Karen J Isberg
Kentucky Performance Products, LLC
How do you know if your horse has arthritis?
Rio is 22 and no longer jumps or dressage.
Light riding and turn out. Rio is in a large pen so he can work around. Did not see any signs of lameness when lunged or hand walk. But I can not ride anymore so the person that rides did light riding and said after riding was lame in front right leg. Today I took Rio for a hand walk he seemed to walk fine. Did light lunge in a soft round pen. Just at a walk and he seemed fine. Then I let him go loose in the round pen he rolled a few times and seemed fine. Ran around the round pen bucking etc. Rio was fine. I hand walked him back to the barn and was okay.
Farrier is coming this week but he is due for new shoes and trim. Rio has pads on his front hooves because they thought he had thrush but no sign of abscess. Farrier has been taking care of Rios hooves every 6 to 8 weeks. Using pads and putting medicine too. Where I board Rio they thought I should put Rio on a supplement.
Thank you visiting our website and submitting your question.
When it comes to lameness it is best to get your veterinarian involved so he or she can give you a definitive diagnosis. On-again, off-again lameness, lameness that only shows up when a horse is carrying weight or working consistently, or lameness that shows up on hard ground versus soft ground can be caused by many different issues, one being arthritis. Your veterinarian has the necessary tools to properly diagnose the problem and provide the best course of treatment.
Regarding the recommendation of a supplement that might help, it certainly won’t hurt to start Rio on a joint supplement such as Joint Armor (http://kppusa.com/product/joint-armor/). While Joint Armor won’t reverse the damage that has already been done, it can help slow further deterioration, and depending on the problem it can reduce inflammation and make Rio more comfortable. If your veterinarian’s diagnosis is arthritis, then you should consider also supplementing with Contribute omega-3 fatty acids (http://kppusa.com/product/contribute/). Research shows that the anti-inflammatory properties of the marine-sourced omega-3 increases stride length, and that indicates a reduction in joint pain. Contribute can be fed right along with the Joint Armor. I hope this helps!
[…] to Kentucky Performance Products, arthritis “is a degeneration of the articular surfaces of the joint caused by […]
Hey I have a question I have a pony that has been neglected for many years. And has a lot if joint pain I’m in the process of cleaning him up and I don’t have the money to give him 100s of dollar worth of meds can you give me some advice?
What a lucky pony to have found someone who cares about him. I suggest you follow the management suggestions listed in the article above. If you live in a cold climate, make sure to keep the pony warm in cold weather by either blanketing when appropriate or keeping him up in a well-bedded stall on cold nights. For acute flareups of joint pain, cold therapy is the best medicine and ice is cheap. Here is a link to an article that outlines multiple icing techniques. http://www.proequinegrooms.com/index.php/tips/equipment-and-tack/icing-techniques/
If you can swing the expense, Contribute omega-3 supplement will be very beneficial for your little guy. There is good research that shows the addition of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (found only in marine sources of omega-3) support reduced inflammation in the joint and reduce pain. Contribute costs 55 cents a day to feed. A gallon jug lasts 128 days.
I hope your pony begins to feel better soon.
What about heat on a natural heat pack placed on the arthritic area?
Arthritic horses can get stiff, so keeping the horse and his joints warm with blankets and wraps, especially when confined to a stall, will reduce stiffness. Rubbing joints down with liniment prior to exercise can be helpful in relieving stiffness. Cold therapy is the preferred treatment to reduce inflammation and slow the destructive enzymes inflammation releases. Arthritic flare-ups should be treated immediately and aggressively with cold therapy, such as icing. Routine icing after exercise is a good way to head off inflammation and reduce the incidence of flare-ups in problem joints.
Follow this link for some great tips on how to ice a horse correctly.
My QH mare of 22 years has bad arthritis in her front knees, we had considered the idea of putting her down, but she is also my 7 year old daughters pride, joy and best friend. We have tried Turmeric, glucosamine, oils, vitamins,.. the list goes on. Nothing seemed to make a difference. A friend recommended Previcox .. after one week it was a night and day difference. We began giving it to her orally, once a day for 4 days, then every second day for a week, and are down to one pill every third day, that seems to be the ideal for her.. She now is pasture sound again and can do short stints of light riding with my daughter. Its a horrible thing to deal with and my heart hurts for anyone one else dealing with it, as one feels so helpless in ways to ease the pain. To my amazement Previcox , although its not a cure, it worked fast and well for our sweet mare. Our old girl has been given a better quality of life, and hopefully a long one. 🙂
Jana, Read your post with interest. What is previcox? I have been doing some research to try and find something for our small horse. I think he is a pony. We rescued him 7 yrs. ago. He had gotten injured, possibly by jumping on a t-post to escape his pasture and damaged his shoulder down to the roter cuff, you could see the bone. Instead of the person that had him taking him to the vet, they dumped him out very close to our house, possibly there because, maybe they knew we had horses, and we would take him in, which we did. He developed founders within a year, and he has also developed arthritis. We need to find something to give him to help with his pain. In 012, the vet gave us some bute paste, had some left over, hubby found it the other day, and gave him a dose, it made such a wonderful change in him, but I don’t know if we can give it all the time. Any input would be greatly appreciated.
We highly recommend that you have a vet look at your pony to prescribe a course of treatment.
Phenylbutazone, or bute, is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that reduces pain and swelling in horses. Long-term usage, especially at high levels, can lead to ulcers, so it is best to work with your vet to determine dosage and length of use.
Previcox is a drug developed to treat osteoarthritis in dogs that has been used off-label for horses. It should also be administered under the direction of a veterinarian.
Here is a link to the Precivox website: http://www.previcox.com/Pages/index.aspx
We are doing hock injections twice a year, and daily previcox. So far its working. Long easy warmups, and half days turned out. Working her on good footing, not too deep, not too hard helps more than anything…. We only ride her 3 times a week. No more than 40 minutes….its working!she’s happier, moving better.
Sorry to hear about your horse. Mine is in the same position. The vet has said it is too chronic to treat. I have mine on joint supplement, bute, Devils claw root and tumeric all of which if he’s off any one he seems worse. I also give him willow branches to chew when I get hold of them. Mine’s bumbling along and is happy in himself but his joints click loudly when he walks and he’s badly lame in trot. He will tell me when he’s too uncomfortable; it’ll be a very sad day.
Hello Tracey please you are not alone!!! My beautiful wonderful 22 year old QH Gaby has arthritis is her left hock. Every horse is different that much I know. Back in March She had a huge flair up, I thought it was going to be the end, Nothing was working, I had googled everything, Vet mentioned steroids, I didn’t want to go that route. anyways one Sunday I was talking to my 85 year grandpa, He said stop making it complicated, He just a old farmer told me “Honey listen to your Gramps and then if that don’t help to give relief , Gaby may need surgery” First he said get her comfortable and he told me Asprine, nothing fancy every 4-6 hours to get her comfy and to get the inflammation under control, ( That took 3 days around the clock) also every time I gave her Asprine he told me to wrap her leg for 5-10 minutes with a wet frozen towel. After 3 days she was a least moving and had some range of motion in her Hock. Then he said I had to walk her like I would my dog 3 times day for the rest of the week. 2nd week he told me only give her Asprine in the morning and at night when she seemed to need it. So his old school easy way, got her to a comfort level it worked thanks , Gramps, but to keep her there, I put her on Good health vitimins and vit E , added canola oil to her diet ( don’t know if it helps gramps told me too when giving Asprine) I added Glouclosomain( how ever you spell it) I had to heavy load it for 2 weeks. She isn’t 100percent better but I think we have giving her comfort, her weight is good, wet damp weather we give Asprine or after a good work out and always cold compress after work outs. This worked for us, this may change who knows but for now, I focus on light rides, walks, joint supplements (never miss a day) and like gramps said watch out for wet, humid weather, or cold weather for flare ups. I pray you can find your baby some relief, don’t stop hunting till you find something that works. Sometimes going old school works too. Jmo
PLEASE NOTE: Aspirin should be used only under a licensed veterinarian’s supervision.
Aspirin is an older nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that is used in horses to relieve pain. It can be used to treat minor lameness, but it only works for short periods of time. Gastrointestinal irritation and bleeding are the most common side effects of aspirin. Frequent usage at high doses may cause kidney damage, bleeding disorders, and protein loss. If a horse is allergic to aspirin they may have difficulty breathing. Please consult your veterinarian before giving your horse aspirin or other over the counter NSAIDS.
Hi Tracy; I hope your Horse is better; I think there is one cornerstone of the Protocol you are not providing; that would be “Vitamins and Minerals Supplements; Vitamin E (wheat germ oil) helps; Vitamin C alone makes the Cartilage better”! 😉
For a year or more I have fed my horse joint supplements including the top ones on the market: Newmarket joint supplement and currently Cosequin with HA and ASU. He has been on them for months and Cosequin almost 6 weeks, fed at the rate recommended by the producer. Non have made any difference to my horse’s osteoarthritis of the coffin joint and he has now been diagnosed with it in his knee joint. NSAIDs are the only thing giving him a comfortable life. As soon as he comes off he is quite lame. Your statement above condemns alternative medicine but what alternative is there for my boy?! In a report by the Arthritis UK who have done scientific trials on a range of alternative medicines that one that was concluded that were most effective were Capsaicin and Boswelia Serrata. The study was trialed in humans; as usual no one ever considers horses! I am sick and tired of reading negative statements. Why doesn’t KER do their research on arthritis in horses and come up with a damn product that works. We horse owners are spending millions of dollars/GBP etc globally on products and little works! In the meantime I have to sit here and see my beautiful horse suffer! The clock is ticking and euthanasia is approaching. In the meantime I’m off to try the above alternatives over time as no one else can help him. Vets want to fill him with stupid steroids – no way, laminitis risk, joint deterioration – or can only offer expensive drugs that ordinary horse owners cannot afford. If my horse matters to you then find a way to cure this terrible disease in horses, humans and animals! You’re all making a fat profit from us!!!!
My heart goes out to you and your horse. I can see that you are very upset by the situation you are facing. It is so hard to see a loved one in pain and frustrating to hear that there is no cure.
There is still much work to be done in the area of arthritis research in horses. We have learned in the past few years that a possible cause of osteoarthritis could be an imbalance in the horse’s immune response. Work is being done to try and learn more so that treatments and supplements can be developed. While the supplements we offer will maintain healthy tissues and support healing, they are not meant to treat or cure disease or injury.
Kentucky Performance Products, LLC (KPP) does not condemn alternative medicine, as there is much to be said for non-traditional treatments when handled carefully under veterinary supervision. We do advise caution. Herbs can have side effects just like drugs; however, the side effects in horses are not always known or noted.
KPP stands behind our products 100%. If you purchase a KPP product and it does not produce the results you expect, we will refund your money. Our Facebook page is monitored 7 days a week, emails are monitored daily and we are available by phone during regular business hours (8 a.m. – 5 p.m. EST) to discuss any questions you might have regarding our products and their appropriateness in a given situation. Please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Karen Isberg, KPP president